Joel Curtis Cooper
September 07, 1934 – July 21, 2020
Joel Curtis Cooper, affectionately known as “Billy” –a nickname bestowed by his paternal grandmother who wanted to have a grandson named Billy, entered this world on September 7, 1934 as the 5th child of 12 children (11 sons and 1 daughter) born to the union of Roy and Louise Cooper, Sr. of Pascola, Missouri.
As an infant, Billy struggled with jaundice and other liver issues but through prayer and the assistance of a Native American medicine man who gave a root elixir to his father, “Whatever the concoction was, I grew bigger than my brothers to the height of 6’5″ and nearly 300 pounds without a sick day in my life,” Billy would often share.
Joel’s gentle gracious spirit was giant as his physical stature, but his faith in God was even greater. He lived up to his Old Testament prophetic who believed God to have poured out God spirit on all flesh whether human or animal, especially Bandit the Grandkids’ Rabbit! Joel never missed an opportunity to share his gratitude for his wife, who he “fell for in first grade,” Kay Francis Cooper and the family God had gifted him that he worked to provide, protect, encourage, empower to make a difference by serving others with a grateful heart. Undoubtedly, with all of his accomplishments, from playing professional football for the Denver Broncos (when he never held a football before in his life–baseball was his sport and he would always knock it out of the Willoughby ball park!), to being inducted in the Lincoln University Athletic Hall of Fame, to establishing and running the Basic Co-op on the Cooper Family farm that provided free food for several communities in the Missouri Bootheel, to establishing demonstration crops with the University of Missouri Extension to test whether certain foods could grow in the region. Joel was a natural educator who taught in Pemiscot County’s Adult Education program and enjoyed teaching Sunday School and Bible Study at St. John African Methodist Episcopal Church, Northside Missionary Baptist Church, St. Luke United Methodist Church (sometimes several sessions each week). He was active in the Methodist Men held at First United Methodist Church, created youth mentoring programs that included gender specific weekly prayer breakfasts. Joel was often asked to speak and/or lecture on the issues of Blacks in the Bible, Black History and environmental issues. He often volunteered to read at his grandchildren’s schools.
After nearly 24 years in corporate America with Noranda Aluminum, where he shared, “to be hired back in 1973, I had to pretend I was an uneducated Negro. I had 8 children to support and neither farming nor teaching nor selling insurance was enough.” When it was discovered Joel had more education than what he put on the application, he was propelled into management. When he announced his retirement at the age of 61, Noranda Corporation offered him a six figure bonus to stay for a few more years, but Joel said, “I am retiring to be a full time grandfather. I don’t need any more money, I just need the time to teach my grandkids how to work hard, serve others and to fish, hunt as well as garden.” Joel was an avid gardener and grew fruits and vegetables, at least one and a half acres of each kind. All of this was grown as a community service and was free for his neighbors to pick! His greatest hope was for his grandchildren to learn from all of this, as well as the tree nursery and flowers he loved to work with and even developed a hybrid marigold plant and jumbo black peanuts!
Joel Curtis “Billy” Cooper loved family and was instrumental in continuing the annual Family Reunion gathering that started more than 83 years ago on the Cooper farm. Annually the reunion attracts between 500 to 2500 family members and friends. One year, he processed 500 jars of blueberry jelly and gave them away during the reunion! To his credit, there is now a reunion park on the Cooper estate that has more than 200 species of trees.
Joel Curtis “Billy” Cooper, continued the rich legacy of the Cooper family not only in the Missouri Bootheel but throughout the state and beyond. In the words of his baby brother, Thomas Jefferson Cooper, MD, “Billy’s heart was biggest than his chest. Just a generous, kind and compassionate man that impacted my life.”
Joel Curtis Cooper leaves to cherish his memories his wife: Kay Francis Cooper and his children, grandchildren, great grandchildren, siblings and a host of nieces, nephews, cousins and friends. He is preceded in death by his beloved grandson, George N. Cooper, II and his grand dog, Kala Cooper.
Visitation will be held on Saturday, July 25, 2020 at Powell Funeral Chapel in Kennett from 10:00 a.m. – 11:00 a.m. with a private funeral service immediately following at 11:15 a.m. Masks are required and social distancing will be strictly enforced. Due to the current pandemic, a public service will be announced when it is safe to gather to remember Joel’s life and legacy. Memorial gifts can be made to the BCHP Scholarship Fund.
Powell Funeral & Cremation Services, Kennett is in charge of arrangements.